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He had lunch at the River House Cafe, strolled by the sparkling white gazebo with the dark green trim in the center of town, walked down Middle Street in front of Vintage Interiors and the Tree of Life Yoga Studio, greeted the young mother pushing a perambulator, paused to chat with the painter on the scaffolding and took a short left onto School Street.

Gov. George W. Bush was in town the other day, and the scene had a familiar feel. The walk through the village, followed by the candidate in shirt sleeves in front of shiny red Engine 2 in the fire station, is a genuine American classic. But it was also familiar because Bush, the son of a president and grandson of a senator, is himself familiar.

The Texas governor's popularity is at once the great mystery and the great imponderable of the 2000 campaign. But maybe the mystery is like so many things about modern American politics, analyzed too much, deconstructed too often. Maybe the Bush phenomenon is not so complex after all.

The people know his father and his mother. They like them. They like him.

Bush brings other attributes to the GOP campaign, of course, including an outlook that is optimistic, a bearing that is appealing, a political profile that is moderate and a governing record that is strong, particularly on education (which he has boosted) and crime (which he has fought).

But hardly anybody here in southern New Hampshire knows much about any of that. They remember his father, even if they didn't support him in his three tries in New Hampshire. "I liked his parents, felt like I knew them," said Carol O'Brien, a homemaker who got Bush's autograph on one of his glossy lawn signs. "That's one of the reasons I like him." Indeed, a quarter of the Bush backers surveyed in the recent Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll acknowledged they supported the governor because of his family name and legacy.

Bush, who often jokes he inherited half his father's friends and all of his enemies, knows this. "People respect Mom and Dad," he said in an interview. He was at pains to add: "I hope part of my success is based on my record of accomplishment -- my position of trust in a very large state."

Even so, his standard stump speech is full of remarks that, subtly but strongly, foster the notion that he is his father's son:

"Being a mom and dad is the most important responsibility we'll ever have if we bring children into this world." Subliminal message: My parents did this job well.

He vows to run "a campaign that will make you proud." Subliminal message: like the pride parents feel when their children succeed, another echo to his own parents.

"I've had some pretty good training." The sentence is an introduction to a discourse on his years in Austin, but before the segue is completed, the listener irresistibly thinks of George and Barbara Bush. Subliminal message: The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree.

In truth, the father and son look alike, think alike, sometimes even react alike. They talk often, but not about the War Powers Act or which way the Supreme Court is veering. "We're a dad and son," the son said in his campaign van. "We talk about matters of love and the heart. He believes I've got what it takes to be president, and that means a lot to me."

The father plays only a cameo role in the son's campaign, turning up in gentle settings like an early-summer appearance in Kennebunkport, Maine, a portrait of a family at ease. He's given his son advice, which the son distills down simply: "He told me to be myself, to be comfortable in who I am. That's a fantastic piece of advice from a dad."

Politics is a psychodrama, chronicled by amateur psychiatrists, some of whom already are saying that the son is trying to avenge the defeat of the father. The son denies it emphatically.

"I can't win the presidency with revenge in my heart," he said. "People will not elect someone to lead them if the motivation is something as negative as revenge. I do not need to justify my father's place on this Earth. He is a fabulous man."

Americans seem to agree. This year, according to a Gallup Poll, 76 percent of Americans said they approved of how President Bush conducted himself in the White House. That itself is revenge for the former president -- and an advantage for his son.

Boston Globe

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